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B Herschel BABBAGE
(1815 -1878)

B. Herschel Babbage was the eldest son of the well-known inventor of the calculating machine. He had been educated as an engineer, and for a considerable time had followed his profession in Europe. He had been engaged on several main lines in England, and had worked in conjunction with the celebrated Brunel. He had also been commissioned by the Government of Piedmont to report on a line across the Alps by way of Mount Cenis. He had remained in Italy some years until his work was interrupted by the revolution. He had returned to England, and had subsequently come to South Australia in 1851, in the ship Hydaspes.

In 1851, the Colonial Secretary Earl Grey, assigned Babbage to perform a geological and mineralogical survey of the colony of South Australia requested by the colony's government and Babbage arrived in South Australia in November. Over the next few years worked on a number of government projects, first setting up the Government Gold Assay Office in Victoria Square.

Babbage began his exploration of South Australia in 1856 when sent to search for gold up to the Flinders Ranges, during which time he discovered the MacDonnell River, Blanchewater and Mount Hopeful (renamed Mount Babbage after him in 1857 by George Goyder). Babbage also disproved the notion that Lake Torrens was a single horseshoe-shaped lake or inland sea, ascertaining a number of gaps in the lake, which were later traversed by other explorers such as Augustus Gregory and Peter Warburton.

In 1858 Babbage led an expedition to explore the north of the colony between Lake Torrens and Lake Gairdner. In June, near Pernatty Creek, he discovered the remains of William Coulthard of Angas Park, Nuriootpa, who had died of thirst around 10 March 1858 and in October he discovered Emerald Springs.

Babbage also discovered that Lake Eyre (sighted by Edward John Eyre in 1840) actually consisted of a large northern and a smaller southern lake. A peninsula on Lake Eyre North was named Babbage Peninsula in 1963.

As Babbage continued his explorations, sometimes accompanied by his son, Charles Whitmore Babbage, the government grew tired of his slow, methodical pace, and the Commissioner of Crown Lands, Francis Dutton, responded to the controversy by replacing him with Peter Warburton. Babbage complained of unfair treatment and petitioned the House of Assembly to conduct a parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

His last years were spent at his home on South Road, St Mary's, where he had an excellent vineyard and was a keen winemaker.

Refer to Chapter 13 'The Explorers of Australia and their Life-work' by Ernest Favenc for more details of Babbage's work and read reports of his exploration in 1858.


Updated 1 November 2012